17 Nov 2011
Nearly two weeks in camp; time to go to town and have a cold beer and buy some cigarettes, I thought.
I leave at six a.m., heading north and then east to Mapai, the closest town. Alberto is on board, he’s going on leave, and I’ll be picking Friday up after his. Alberto is dressed in civvies today. He apologised for not wearing his ranger’s uniform, saying it might get him into trouble. (I find it really sad that his role as a protector of nature brings him in conflict with his own community. Poaching, both of bushmeat and the new gold – rhino -, is deeply rooted here.)
An hour along the track we run into a broken down vehicle. It’s a group of people from neighbouring Makanduzul, returning from town with a load of supplies.
No battery, the driver says. Closer inspection shows about the only part of the truck that’s not fit for scrap is the rear view mirror. After half an hour we manage to get them going again and we continue.
Mapai however, is not just Mapai, I discover. There are actually three Mapai’s. Chikumbane, a tiny village on the west bank of the Limpopo, is the original Mapai. We pick Friday up there and cross the Limpopo to Mapai Ngala, a settlement on the other side where there’s a mass grave and memorial for 25 people killed in ‘the war of Ian Smith’. From there it’s 17km to Mapai station, which apparently is now Mapai proper. (Old maps show it as Jorge de Limpopo).
Mapai is a dusty little town on the main Maputo / Zimbabwe railway line, with no electricity or proper streets, but it is a welcome place nonetheless. I manage to buy some fuel from a street vendor, then the heat sends me in search of a cold beer.
I give the White Brothers a miss (sounds too racist) and find shade under thatch at Orlando’s.His beer is cold and quenching and I drink two 550ml 2M’s. Only later do I realise they never even made me pee.
Suitably fortified to deal with my progressively worsening claustrophobia in malls, I then head for the market to get a few things.
That done, we head for home, but on the way we stop to load a few bundles of reeds that Friday’s wife had cut in the Limpopo. They are for new shower walls for the guys in the compound. By the time we lumber out of the searing sand with the topheavy load on the roofrack, I’m sweating like a pig.
On the long haul back through the bush, twelve km from where we’d helped them in the morning, we meet our friends with the battered bakkie again. This time the ball joint in the front suspension had given way. They had fixed it with wire and then spent the rest of the day waiting for someone to pass to ‘give battery’. Since no one came, they got stuck into their stock of booze instead. Men and women alike were reeling by the time we found them, and the road was littered with empties. No amount of jump starting could get either them or the sorry truck going again, so we had no choice but to leave them there.
We eventually made it back to camp at sunset.